A political push for scientific cooperation

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Author: David Dickson
Date: June 22, 1984
From: Science(Vol. 224)
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,944 words

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Paris. On 9 June, the leaders of the West's industrial nations informally took a small but significant step toward harmonizing their science and technology policies by endorsing the activities of the working groups that have spent the past 2 years exploring plans for closer collaboration in fields ranging from nuclear fusion to fish farming.

The working groups had been set up at the prompting of French President Francois Mitterrand when he played host to the summit meeting in Versailles, France, in the summer of 1982. Much of the initial skepticism from the other six countries involved (Canada, Italy, Great Britain, Japan, West Germany, and the United States) had subsided by the time of last year's meeting in Williamsburg, when it was realized that Mitterrand's proposals, when stripped of their Gallic rhetoric, reflected a growing political undercurrent in favor of a greater integration in technology strategies (Science, 17 June 1983, p. 1252).

This initial impression has been confirmed over the past year. None of the working groups had any major achievements to announce to the London summit; nor had they all been equally successful. Nevertheless, sufficient progress, sometimes unexpected, has been made to convince all seven governments, as well as the eight member of the summit group, the Commission of the European Economic Community, that the exercise is worth maintaining.

There is even talk of giving the projects' steering committee, which consists of top-level government science advisers, a more prominent role in international affairs. This could range from providing collective advice to heads of government to becoming a channel for negotiating international agreements on major scientific facilities, particularly where these might involve a trade off between different fields of research and different national aspirations (for example, between high-energy physics, fusion research, and space science). If this expanded role materializes, the group could well take over from other existing bodies--such as the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development--as the principal international channel for science policy discussions in the second half of the 1980's.

No one, however, is yet making such ambitious claims in public. "As far as the London summit is concerned, one should not exaggerate the importance of this group; the thing is perhaps a second order item, even if it has become a stable part of the agenda and seems to be appreciated by the heads of state," says Josef Rembser, head of the basic research and international cooperation section of the West German Ministry of Technology and Research, and Germany's representative on the steering committee. "Nevertheless, we in the German government appreciate very much the substantial, practical and realistic approach that working groups have taken," he adds.

Rembser's remarks are particularly significant in view of the fact that it was Germany, more than any other summit member, which expressed severe doubts about the whole project at the beginning. While sharing American concerns that the activities of the working groups might encroach on areas of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A3316675